- The Washington Times - Friday, June 28, 2002

For the second time this month, D.C. firefighters have been forced to use an ordinary garden hose to battle a house fire.

When a fire broke out at 3:40 p.m. Wednesday in the 1600 block of Massachusetts Avenue SE within sight of Engine Co. 8 firefighters ran to the scene because their reserve pumper truck was out of service.

"We heard [on radio] the fire call come out for a house fire, which was directly behind our firehouse," said Lt. Patrick Kelly, who was in command at the scene.

Lt. Kelly said firefighters went outside to see whether they could spot any smoke, turned a corner and saw a woman on a cordless telephone crying and shouting that her 82-year-old grandmother might be in the house. The woman and another person in the house fled when they heard a smoke alarm, but the two were not certain whether the elderly woman was still inside.

Lt. Kelly said two firefighters rushed into the house without protective gear and crawled through the smoke-filled basement searching for the elderly woman. Three other firefighters attacked the fire with a garden hose to provide cover for the men who went downstairs.

"It just went from bad to worse real fast," Lt. Kelly said. "The fire at that point had gotten so big that the garden hose was doing very little."

The firefighters in the basement, who had about 1-foot visibility through the smoke, repeatedly called the elderly woman's name. She responded, and they dragged her outside through a basement door.

Fire department spokesman Alan Etter said the woman suffered smoke inhalation and was in stable condition at George Washington University Medical Center yesterday.

"These guys did a terrific job," Mr. Etter said. "They were obviously thinking. They should all be commended."

Mr. Etter said the house sustained $50,000 worth of damage, and the cause of the fire has not been determined.

Broken windows on the first and second floors in the front and back of the house were boarded with plywood yesterday, and a neighbor who had witnessed the fire said the house was "unlivable."

On June 6, firefighters fought a house fire in the 4300 block of Brandywine Street NW with a garden hose when a valve on the first-arriving pumper truck did not work. The Washington Times first reported the incident June 13.

Firefighters also were sidelined when a pump failed on a reserve truck during an electrical fire at the home of U.S. Sen. Evan Bayh in April.

Engine Co. 8's regular pumper truck, a 2002 model, was out of service undergoing warranty work. The engine company was using a reserve pumper that department sources said is at least 10 years old. It had been forced out of service because it was "severely leaking" from problems with two of its valves, sources said.

"There was not a reserve to put in place for the reserve that day," Mr. Etter said. "We admit it. We need equipment."

Engine Co. 10, which usually would have been the second-due company on the scene after Engine Co. 8, was unavailable because of a delay for an ambulance to respond to a noncritical medical call, fire officials said.

Engine Co. 18, the third-due company, responded from about a mile away at 414 Eighth St. SE.

Because Engine Co. 8 and Engine Co. 10 were unavailable, two of the first five engine companies that responded to the box alarm came from the other side of the Anacostia River.

Engine Co. 8 was placed in service late Wednesday night with a 1993 reserve pumper.

City officials said the fire department has ordered 18 new pumper trucks to bolster a fleet that is aging and in disrepair. The pumpers are expected to arrive in February.

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